COLONIE — Four children, ages 7 to 18, made it out of war-torn Afghanistan just before the border closed and were reunited with their mother for the first time in nearly eight years.
The mother, who is only being identified as Suneeta for security reasons, had been working to bring her children to this country since her husband, a former U.S. ally, went missing in 2013 and his brother took the children, as is that country’s custom.
Her efforts were accelerated when the U.S. announced it was pulling out of Afghanistan after a 20-year occupation. The Afghanistan government quickly collapsed, and the country was taken over by the Taliban. The U.S. announced it had completed evacuation efforts a day earlier than the previously announced Aug. 31 deadline.
“That was the only chance to get away from Afghanistan,” said one of Suneeta’s children through an interpreter. “For us to get out, we had to stay there (near the airport in Kabul) for us to do that it was the last flight. It was our last chance. We couldn’t lose that. We didn’t have any choice after that.”
The children’s identities are not being released for security reasons.
On Monday, Aug. 30, the five walked through the Albany International Airport arm in arm and Suneeta, through tears, thanked everyone as they were greeted by friends and the media and she hugged her children, especially the two youngest.
Most recently, the children had been staying with a family at an apartment near the airport in Kabul, the Afghanistan capitol. They and thousands of others who are fearful of staying in the country ruled by the Taliban had fought for days trying to get a flight out of the war-torn country. Horrible images and video showed people clinging to the outside of the planes as they took off, some falling to their death.
Suneeta and her family, though, got help from a number of entities including the staff attorney Sara Lowry of the Albany-based U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, to get her children a safe flight to Washington and then to Albany.
“This is the biggest thing I have ever done in my life with the help of so many other people,” she said. “It is just a tragedy that so many people who we were working for didn’t make it out, and it is not lost on us.”
That organization received assistance from Alex Plitsas, U.S. Army war veteran who helped refugees escape in conjunction with official U.S. government efforts, and the Tzedek Association, a non-profit group who has worked to get people out of the country.
Suneeta said the Taliban do not treat people well and are going door-to-door looking for dissidents.
“We are worried about the people, the girls and women, back in Afghanistan,” she said. “The Afghanistan culture is different than here. Men do not let women go out or study and I hope someday we can help the ones who were not able to make it out.”
For now, though, she and her children were safe and are ready to start a new life in this country.
“I am so excited to have my children in my arms after all these years. It is like a dream. They are touching each other, it is not a dream. This is real,” she said through an interpreter.
Click on a photo below to view a slideshow of the rest.